Date: Revisiting the Catechism – The First Commandment
Texts: Exodus 20:1-3; Psalm 2; Romans 2:12-16; John 6:44-47
Context: Embarking on my own selection of Scripture verses for a season has taught me a profound respect for those who assembled the lectionary. Putting verses together in a coherent and insightful fashion is not easy work, and I have undoubtedly botched it more than succeeded. Nevertheless, we continue!
The First Commandment forms the basis for all that follow. It is the why which prefaces the what. Because God, me. Because Creator, Creation. Not out of necessity, but only out of divine goodness. Scripture beautifully addresses the issue that Socrates will eventually deal with in Euthyphro– what is the nature of good? Is good a separate standard that the gods must conform to? Or is good the arbitrary determination of the gods? Scripture says neither. Good is God. We cannot conceive of good separate from God because He is the source and definition and embodiment of it.
As such, it is not possible to have any other god, any other source of good, any other source of identity or purpose. Therefore we should fear, love, and trust in this God above all things. God is the Creator, and throughout Scripture this is the litmus test for godhood. Did you create the universe and everything in it? Then you’re God. If you didn’t, you aren’t.
Exodus 20:1-3 – Having brought the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of slavery in Egypt, God reveals himself in power and awe, his presence dwelling in grandeur draped around the summit of Mt. Sinai. From here He proclaims his Word to his people. He begins by answering the question Moses asked of him in Exodus 13 – who should I tell your people sent me? He is the one who delivered them from the most powerful empire in the area, who delivered them not simply from slavery but from a political and religious authority bent on their annihilation. They witnessed firsthand his power and authority over the false gods of the Egyptians. Therefore, He has the right to say these things to them, to lay out what it means to be his people. Whether they choose to accept these terms is irrelevant – these terms stand for all eternity, the continual definition of what it means to live in harmony with the Creator. Even should they refuse to be God’s people, they cannot escape being God’s creations, and thus bound by these conditions. God is not creating an arbitrary moral code unique to his people. Rather, He is revealing the fabric of his creation, the stitches which define not just the residents of his universe, but the universe itself.
No other god is possible. No other god is desirable or necessary. God is God alone, and no other god can rightly come before him in our hearts and minds.
Psalm 2 – The reality of God and his will woven into creation can of course be resisted. We see this regularly, with nations still raging against his precepts and people still plotting against his will. We have watched the influence of God’s will in our own country weakened and nearly wiped out of the public sphere. The first three verses of this psalm are quite raw and fresh to us today as they were when composed roughly 3000 years ago!
We worry and fret and wonder how to defend the power and dignity of God, but such worries are useless and unnecessary. His will cannot be undone, how power cannot be resisted, his will cannot be nullified, and his will shall be accomplished. The wise will recognize this and submit to his authority. The foolish will not, and will suffer his wrath.
Romans 2:12-16 – The Law of God is not arbitrary. Rather, it is part and parcel of creation, so much so that even those who do not know of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures or the Ten Commandments can affirm the validity of those commandments. It isn’t as though someone can say Those Ten Commandments are all well and good for you, but I have a different, separate moral code that I follow that is equally valid and binding. God’s Law is binding on everyone. Those who refuse it, or reject it – whether they know it in the form of the Ten Commandments or not will perish in their refusal and rejection. Those who do accept it must confess in the process that they do not keep it perfectly, and therefore stand condemned by it. The Law convicts universally. We are universally in need of a savior.
John 6:44-47 – Some of the crowd that was fed miraculously (John 6:1-15) returns to Jesus the next day, and He gives them plenty to chew on. They object to Jesus commanding their faith in him (6:30), claiming that Moses performed a more impressive feeding via manna than Jesus did with five loaves of bread and a few fish. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. Manna didn’t originate in heaven. Moses didn’t send it. And the people who ate it died eventually.
Jesus, however, is the true bread of life. He has come down from heaven. Sent by God – who sent the manna in the desert to the Israelites. And whoever partakes of Jesus’ body will not die. Jesus does not just perform a greater sign than Moses, He IS the greater sign that Moses could never be. Participating in the moral code of the Israelites does not make one a follower of God. That is possible only by the offering of God himself, as He offered it at Mt. Sinai, and as He now offers it through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only by accepting the offer of God to be his follower does one receive life – eternal life. It isn’t a matter of intellectual assent, but rather of devotion, relationship.
God is the one who creates the context by which we are saved. He is the one who teaches us about this through his Word and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who grants the life that we are promised as we entrust ourselves to him. That act of entrusting creates salvation, every bit as much as the drowning person must entrust themselves to their rescuer, rather than continuing to thrash for their own survival.
There is no shortage of other aspirants to god status. Sometimes our choices are lousy, other times we’re thrilled with them. But when our peace of mind and well being are shattered by these false idols, we are reminded that there is only one God. Only one Creator. Only one Savior. Only one who has sacrificed himself specifically for you and I that we might have hope and life that wildly exceeds the greatest promises of any political candidate or party, any prescription medication, any entertainment option, any spouse or child or best friend, any golden parachute or winning lottery ticket.